Satellite spotters

John Schwartz reports in today's New York Times about the global community of "satellite spotter" hobbyists who track the heavenly motions of satellites — some of which are secret government projects — and share what they find online:

Thousands of people form the spotter community. Many look for historical relics of the early space age, working from publicly available orbital information. Others watch for phenomena like the distinctive flare of sunlight glinting off bright solar panels of some telephone satellites. Still others are drawn to the secretive world of spy satellites, with about a dozen hobbyists who do most of the observing, Mr. Molczan said.

In the case of the mysterious satellite that is about to plunge back to earth, Mr. Molczan had an early sense of which one it was, identifying it as USA-193, which gave out shortly after reaching space in December 2006. It is said to have been built by the Lockheed Martin Corporation and operated by the secretive National Reconnaissance Office.

One of those satellites may be visible to folks in New York City on Friday. Link to the full story, and here's a related item on the NYT "Lede" blog. Image: UK-based satellite spotter John Locker, photo by Jonathan Player for The New York Times.